James Meek's essay "Where will we live?" is a detailed, passionate history of the housing timebomb that is detonating in England today. Thatcher set the time in the 1980s, when she sold off public housing to tenants and forbade local governments from building more with the proceeds, and subsequent governments have done everything they can to fuel and intensify housing speculation and bubbles. And now single moms, disabled people, and elderly people are being evicted, families can't afford housing on anything less than a banker's salary, and pensioners are being doomed to decades of poverty by low interest rates that can't be raised, lest they burst the property speculation bubble.
Housing in the UK is a microcosm for everything wrong with neoliberalism: corruption, cronyism, grinding human misery, and funny accounting to prove that it's all working, honestly.
Fergus Wilson, one of England's largest landlords, has announced that he will no longer rent to people receiving welfare benefits, and has served all of his benefits-receiving tenants with eviction notices. He says that the cuts to benefits in the UK have resulted in an unacceptably high level of rent arrears, so high in fact that rent guarantee insurers will no longer cover properties let to welfare tenants.
The problem of social housing tenants falling behind on rent will get much, much worse shortly, when the "universal credit" scheme is introduced -- a massive change in the way benefits are paid that has delayed by massive IT problems.
The hardest hit groups of tenants are elderly people and single mothers, as well as people who are too disabled to work.
Jamie Smith Hopkins at The Baltimore Sun writes about the tiny homes more and more Americans are opting for: "U.S. houses got bigger for decades ... even as household sizes shrunk, according to Census Bureau figures. But the housing crash, foreclosure crisis and rough recession have pressed some to think differently."
Austin Hay began to build himself a tiny house when he was 17 and planning to move out his parents' place. He's planning to take it to college and park it in someone's back yard or side yard. It's a snug little ship-shape thing, too:
Now, Hay is done with his house, and it looks beautiful and well-made and very, very tiny. He’s been living in the house instead of in his childhood bedroom, and he has it registered as a trailer, so he can drive it to college if he has somewhere to park it. This video combines two tours — an early one before the project was done, and a recent open house showing the finished home and its features.
NPR's Planet Money profiles Willow Tufano, a 14-year-old Florida girl who saved thousands of dollars by harvesting furniture from foreclosed houses and selling it on eBay. She's just bought half interest in a house that went for $100,000 at the peak of the bubble. Her mom owns the other half, and the house went for $12,000. They rent it out for $700 a month now. Chana Joffe-Walt writes,
One day, Willow's mom, Shannon, saw a two-bedroom, concrete-block home on auction for $12,000 — down from $100,000 at the peak of the bubble. Shannon was telling her husband about the house, when Willow piped up.
"I was like, 'What if I bought a house? That would be crazy,' " Willow says...
As I was working on this story, I kept thinking that when a 14-year-old kid can buy a house, the market must have hit bottom. I kept saying this to Willow, and she'd sort of vaguely nod.
But it's hard for Willow to see herself as symbolic of anything. To a 14-year-old kid in Florida, the housing collapse is basically the only world she's known. It's the landscape. It's a Craigslist hobby.
In this case, what she wrote is not technically incorrect, but its very misleading. The lowest this rate has been over the past few decades is 8.5%. So while 11% sounds shocking, it is only somewhat elevated after the worst housing crash in the US since the Great Depression.
The typical data point used to describe vacant homes is the Home Ownership Vacancy Rate. In the US, that number is 2.7% for owner occupied houses and 9% for rental properties, apartments, etc.
The sensationalistic number referenced in the CNBC story (repeated by Consumerist) is not commonly used -- indeed, its towards the end of the Census Bureau release that reports such things.
What it references is the total number of structures that are unoccupied -- this includes a whole laundry list of empty properties -- abandoned old farm houses, (Not sure if vacation properties/second homes are included -- I need to check that). No one usually pays much attention to this number, as it provides very little useful insight.
Welcome to America after the housing bubble, where, according to the census, 11 percent of homes are vacant:
Now to vacancies. There were 18.4 million vacant homes in the U.S. in Q4 '10 (11 percent of all housing units vacant all year round), which is actually an improvement of 427,000 from a year ago, but not for the reasons you'd think.
The number of vacant homes for rent fell by 493 thousand, as rental demand rose. 471,000 homes are listed as "Held off Market" about half for temporary use, but the other half are likely foreclosures. And no, the shadow inventory isn't just 200,000, it's far higher than that.
A Canadian wire-service article claims that modern composite materials used in house construction drastically accelerates the pace of house-fires when compared with traditional solid wood and other materials.
What that means for firefighters is the amount of time they can safely be inside a house on fire has dropped from about 17 minutes to three minutes or less.
That's when flashover happens -- the moment when a room or building is fully engulfed in flames...
[Ottawa Fire spokesman Marc Messier] said unlike 30 years ago, when homes, furniture and appliances were made of solid wood and steel, modern day versions are made with glue, plastics and synthetic materials.
Such synthetics not only burn faster but produce carcinogenic emissions as they burn.
"One of the biggest examples is floor joists," said Messier, who himself dabbles in home renovations.
"They used to be 2x8s and 2x10s, and now we're looking at composite materials which for the most part are made of wood particles, mixed in with glue. They're cheaper, which is probably why the industry is using these products."
These weird, blobular forms (orignally featured in the Swiss magazine Hochparterre) are misprinted houses generated by automated prefab concrete machines: "Based on iconic housing shapes, these buildings were intended as prototypes for mass-customization. Yet, as things go with computerized manufacturing, there have been misplots. The cartridge was not loaded properly. The concrete was set to the wrong parameters or scale. The printer module falsely translated a data set...
These misprints are the rejects of this early process, and they are now being used as shared homes by elderly people from the former squatter scene."
Here's an Oobject gallery of "Depressing million-dollar London property" -- houses and flats for sale at or above the million dollar (£650K) range. It's true that London's residential property hasn't fallen as precipitously as the US equivalent, but commercial property is sure down a big notch; today I'm signing the lease on a new office in the same building as the London Hackspace, next to a train station and a public bicycle lockup, with a loading bay, lift, balcony, sink, etc, that's twice the size of my old office in a shitty Clerkenwell building -- and paying the same as I've been paying to date for all those extras (added bonus: it's only 10 minutes' walk from the (grotesquely overvalued) flat!).
Shown here: "Near the Arsenal football club, this utilitarian looking squat box was originally designed for blue collar workers, now it probably contains a lawyer."
Its October 2010 and Chinese property booms while most of the Western world's houses have shrunk to more realistic levels. In the US, homes have ceased to be ATMs to buy oriental barbecues, but in Britain, a crowded island with a cultural attachment to carving out a personal defensible space Englishmen's homes are still castles, with prices to match.
As US housing prices adjusted, UK ones, faltered then regained their losses smack in the middle of the recession. This time things look different, with last month seeing the largest dip in housing prices in history. Perhaps prices in Britain will go up forever, or perhaps Britain will be like Japan, another crowded island which had the same phenomenon and where eventual capitulation resulted in a crash where property is worth less than a decade ago?
One way to judge judge this is to look at what a million dollars gets you in London and its hinterland - a place where an apartment recently sold for a quarter of a billion dollars during the biggest downturn since the Great Depression. Click through each item to read the justification for inclusion.
NPR's Planet Money bought a toxic asset for $1000 and named it "Toxie" and followed it closely, as a way of unravelling the recent econopocalypse. Now, less than a year later, Toxie is dead, killed by loan modifications. Though once a mighty producer, Toxie delivered less than 50% of her face-value in her short life on the NPR balance sheet.